Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

Robert Zemeckis

Latest vs. Greatest is a relatively new feature here at Killing Time.  We’re going to look at directors, actors and actresses and assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the last 10 movies the artist has done, give it a grade and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 best movies and give it the same treatment to see what they have been doing compares to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is also a regular on a TV show we’ll grade the seasons as individuals and, clearly, artists need 10 projects to qualify).

Robert Zemeckis is not a typical Hollywood director.  He doesn’t have a specific type or style of film he chooses.  He’s not prolific.  He’s only directed 10 films in last 23 years.  Before last year’s Flight, he hadn’t directed a live-action movie since 2000’s Cast Away.  He switched all his efforts to working on a motion capture animation style which he used in The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol.  Not many directors take 12 years off from live film making to dabble in new tech.  James Cameron is the only other one I can think of, but he was also busy between Titanic and Avatar gold-plating his private island with all the money he’s made.  Zemeckis is semi-well known to film goers, but not an immediate name like Cameron, Spielberg, or Tarantino.  His body of work; however, contains a favorite film of almost anyone.

Zemeckis has always innovated.  If there’s a common thread to the disparate themes in his work, it’s that something in the film is pushed to the edge be it technology (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the animated films), the boundaries of storytelling (Flight) or what can be asked of a single actor in a single film (Cast Away).  As I said, it’s a bit of a misnomer to examine his “latest ten” because they stretch all the way back to 1989, but it’s the name of the game, so here’s his latest ten

Back to the Future, Marty McFly, Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox

ZEMECKIS’ LATEST TEN:
1. Flight (2012) ………………………………………………………………….. 9.25
2. A Christmas Carol (2009) ………………………………………………… 6.00
3. Beowulf (2007) ………………………………………………………………. 7.25
4. The Polar Express (2004) …………………………………………………4.75
5. Cast Away (2000) …………………………………………………………..10.00
6. What Lies Beneath (2000) …………………………………………………7.50
7. Contact (1997) …………………………………………………………………7.25
8. Forrest Gump (1994) ………………………………………………………..8.50
9. Death Becomes Her (1992) …………………………………………………5.75
10. Back to the Future Part III ……………………………………………….8.00
ROBERT ZEMECKIS’ CURRENT WORKING AVERAGE: 7.425

Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis

Picking your projects and taking your time seems to work.  Zemeckis has that highest current working average of any artist (director or actor) that we’ve examined thus far.  It would be even higher were it not for the decade long plunge into developing a photo-realistic type of animation that we’ll just call Zemeckamation.  Because that’s simpler.  Z-mation (better!) is characterized by exceedingly creepy characters with likenesses clearly aiming for a certain actor (Jim Carrey or Tom Hanks, for example) and ending up with something that looks a little more like what that person would look like if they could flounce around post-embalming.  It just never quite works.  If not used on people, yes, it looks pretty amazing.  The dragon scene in Beowulf is just awesome!  However for ever scene like that, there are ten scenes where a creepy Tom Hanksian conductor pushes hot chocolate in a hideous, unintentionally macabre production number.  Zemeckis is not currently attached to a future project, but I hope he’ll return his efforts to live-action.  Flight and Cast Away, his last two live-action ventures are two of the best acting showcases in the past two decades.  Let’s look at Zemeckis’ 10 greatest films and get his average score:

ZEMECKIS’ GREATEST TEN:
1. Cast Away (2000) ……………………………………………………………10.00
2. Back to the Future (1985)……………………………………………………9.50
3. Flight (2012) …………………………………………………………………….9.25
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)………………………………………9.00
5. Forrest Gump (1994)………………………………………………………….8.50
6. Back to the Future Part IIII (1990) ………………………………………8.00
7. What Lies Beneath (2000) ………………………………………………….7.50
8. Back to the Future Part II (1989) ………………………………………… 7.50
9. Contact (1997) …………………………………………………………………. 7.25
10. Beowulf (2007) ………………………………………………………………. 7.25
ROBERT ZMECKIS’ CURRENT GREATEST AVERAGE: 8.375

Zemeckis has both the highest last ten movie average we’ve seen in examining artists so far and the lowest greatest average.  The twelve years spent on Z-mation are frustrating to me, because when he’s on, he’s in an elite class of directors.  I hope the obsession with that has faded.  He has the ability to bring the best performances out of his actors and the range of stories he can tell is such that you never know what you’ll get going in, but given his career, you know it’s probably going to be something special.
Tom Hanks, Chuck Nolan, Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis

12 thoughts on “Robert Zemeckis’ Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies”

  1. After Speilberg, Lucas and Henson, Zemekis is the filmmaker who marked my childhood and adolescence the most. When I watched Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future Trilogy as a kid, I thought they were speaking to me on my own level… only when I grew up did I realize how sophisticated and grown-up they really were. And you’re right, the man is a technical innovator beyond par. However, I really believe his motion capture stuff will end up laying the groundwork for a revolution in filmmaking. You’re right, the characters in Polar Express look creepy, but for a Christmas film it’s kind of dark and threatening, so the creepiness fits. And if he had pulled back on the hyperfrenetic action, his version of A Christmas Carol would have been the best version of that story ever put on film, IMO. Beowulf did not work nearly as well, though I loved Glover as Grendel (glad he and Zemekis patched things up). Also, I wish he had stuck closer to the original work; I have been waiting for a really good adaptation of Beowulf for a long, long time (literature is my grown-up field of expertise when I’m not on message boards discussing science fiction movies).

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  2. I just want the man to go back to making live action films. We already have enough crazy tech innovators. He did his ten years in the desert. Gimme more movies. This was the easiest and hardest one so far in some respects because I don’t even think he’s done 20 movies overall. Which is crazy when you think about how long he’s been a name player.

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    1. I could not agree with you more that it’s time for him to come back, and the fact that he chose Flight as the vehicle for his return shows that he is serious. I just like to see filmmakers go out on a limb and fulfill their crazy obsessions and ambitions every once in a while. It wouldn’t be a good idea for everyone to get carried away all the time, but there is a time and a place for every director to reach somewhat unsuccessfully for the stars.
      On another note, it’s great to see that you recognized the entire Back to the Future trilogy, which, taken as a single work, is tragically underrated.

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  3. I just want the man to go back to making live action films. We already have enough crazy tech innovators. He did his ten years in the desert. Gimme more movies. This was the easiest and hardest one so far in some respects because I don’t even think he’s done 20 movies overall. Which is crazy when you think about how long he’s been a name player.

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  4. i think giving forest gump only an 8.5 is a travesty considering beowulf and contact are only 1.25 pts difference. There is more than a world of difference between these films. If Forest Gump is an 8.5 then these other films should be like 3.25. Forest Gump explores some extremely tough themes and even ends with a great philosophical statement on determinism vs free will while remaining wildly entertaining and funny.

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    1. Ok I am being generous because I recognize it as an achievement but that film annoys the living bejeebers out of me. I think its unbelievablly cloying and I hate Jenny so much that the entire quest of the movie is ruined. I also can’t stand Sally Field or Forrest Whitaker but I do realize I’m the only person who feels that way in the world and the film is technically outstanding and I do love Lt Dan. So that’s more me trying to be fair. Its not Titanic which is a legitimately awful film. Its jusy not to my taste.

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